I spent Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend in the Catskills, away from bustling Brooklyn — and away from my family — in order to gather the strength to rid myself of unproductive habits and find new ones, and to figure ways to help my kids do the same.
There, I listened to the teachings of Mahadev Chaitanya, the young golden-clad Israeli yogi at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch.
I didn’t know anything about Hinduism or the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta philosophy, and the same could be said of the mostly 20-somethings who joined me on the weekend, many as a result of a Groupon I missed that offered significantly reduced rates. Bummer.
But the Google-search for a nearby getaway turned up Sivananda for a positive-thinking workshop and a rigorous schedule of meditation, yoga, and vegetarian meals. It was just what I needed to start the year on a new foot, just what I was ready for, which is why I now refer, only half-facetiously (and very annoyingly to my family,) to life B.A. (Before Ashram) and A.A. (After Ashram).
In the days since my return from the glorious 77-acre ranch in the shadow of the mountains (which I watched get covered in snow from the downward dog position), I am practicing to be calmer, more centered, more focused, more in the moment. I am trying to listen more than talk. I’ve begun picking up garbage on the sidewalk and putting it in the garbage can. I am working hard to see through people’s sometimes caustic veneers to the good person inside.
In hindsight, it might not be the 5:30 am wake-up chants and gong that has made me work harder to alter my mind and actions, since my body clock at home has been set to 4 am for some time.
It might not be the uncomfortable cross-legged sitting silently in a dark shrine trying to put everything out of my mind but “ohm.”
It might not be the drumming along I did to the ritual Sanskrit chants, or the piano I played for others during chore time, otherwise known as “Karma Yoga.”
It might not be the lack of caffeine, alcohol, meat, garlic, or onions and the influx of spiced vegetables and grains. It might not be the five yogic principles of proper exercise, proper breathing, proper relaxation, proper diet, and proper positive thinking, as explained by a young Hebrew acolyte of the late Swami Sivananda.
It might not be the sauna house overlooking the mountains, or the walks through the snow to light incense to effigies of Indian gods encased in shrines around the property.
It might not be the painful legs-over-head poses or standing on my head in the middle of the room.
Happiness is a quality of our inner being and it is not brought about by something from the outside, Mahadev told us. So, as I thought about it, I realized that what really has helped me work toward more discipline and focus and action is the desire that drove me to seek out the Ashram in the first place, the will to trepidatiously board a bus Port Authority Bus Terminal and spend three nights eagerly performing totally foreign rites and rituals.
I wanted to change, and I sought out the inspiration to do so, just in the same way that my boys will have to find and do inspirational things as they grow up and discover they’re living, at points, with deep-grooved habits that don’t work, that don’t make them happy. They, like I, will have to do something when fear and negativity and denial creep in and threaten to paralyze them from reaching their highest ideals.
Back with a cookbook, a pile of incense and small statue of Ganesh (the elephant-headed Hindu god of wisdom and learning and remover of obstacles), I am working hard at instituting the lessons learned in that beautiful, peaceful place filled with people on a group mission to be more positive. And I’m trying, despite eye-rolls at the very word “Ashram,” to pass those lessons on to my kids.
©2014 Community News Group
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